Ono Shohei returns for Japan as fans eye dream match – Olympic Champion v World Champion?
Japan’s Olympic champion and double world champion ONO Shohei (JPN) is set to make his long-awaited return to competition at the fifth and final Grand Slam of the season which takes centre stage from Saturday 2 – Sunday 3 December at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium (Ono Shohei returns).
Rio 2016 Olympic champion ONO Shohei, the thrower of throwers, competes for the first time since the Games and leads a 56-strong entry for the hosts who have expectedly fulfilled their right to enter four judoka per weight category and Japan will be unrelenting at home. World champion HASHIMOTO Soichi (JPN) is also in -73kg action as fans are waiting with bated breath for a possible a dream contest between Japan’s Olympic and world champions in their favourite weight category.
The Japanese team was selected from their recent domestic national event, the Kodokan Cup in November, and from IJF World Judo Tour results and retains its youthful look from the Suzuki World Judo Championships 2017 where Team Manager INOUE Kosei unleashed the full power of his Tokyo 2020 Olympics generation with devastating results as his charges won 10 out of the 14 gold medals.
The return of ONO is just the beginning for the home team with Japan’s seven reigning world champions from Budapest 2017 all competing alongside with Openweight World Championships ASAHINA Sarah who captured her red backpatch in Morocco.
On Friday afternoon the draw took place at the Tokyo Dome Hotel where it was revealed that 417 judoka (243 men, 174 women) from 61 nations will compete. Olympic champions Lukas KRPALEK (CZE), Tina TRSTENJAK (SLO), Rafaela SILVA (BRA) and ONO Shohei (JPN) will lead an all-star entry and are four of 16 Olympic medallists from Rio 2016 who are in action in Tokyo.
“Dear colleagues, welcome to Tokyo, first of all I want to thank the All Japan Judo Federation President YAMASHITA as well as Kodokan President UEMURA Haruki and KAWAGUCHI Takao. I thank you for the great organisation and the collaboration here for the Grand Slam.
“I would like to inform you all that we will use the same strategy as the World Championships with regards to our partnership with CNN which will feature clips from this competition this weekend as we also provide to EuroNews. We will provide content from the Tokyo Grand Slam featuring the best contests and the best judoka to promote our champions and the educational values of our sport.
“On a subject related to our educational values, I want to ask all coaches to control their enthusiasm, sometimes you can be overzealous and sometimes we lose the spirit of the sport. Please take time to think about your behaviour which is the model for athletes. I want to wish you a successful competition and I will also see you all as well in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the World Judo Masters later this month.”
YAMASHITA Yasuhiro (above), All Japan Judo Federation President, said: “Dear Mr. President, IJF Executive Committee members, athletes, coaches, the judo family, welcome to Tokyo, on behalf of AJJF, I am glad to express my warmest welcome for you.
It is a great honour to host Tokyo Grand Slam. Thank you to VIZER, the IJF and people who support us to make this Grand Slam. Following the big success of Worlds 2017, we will do everything in our power to be successful when we host the 2019 Worlds and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“We are very excited to see the two-day competition starting tomorrow, I wish all the best to the judo family from all over the world, have a memorable stay in Tokyo.”
RANKINGS SET FOR WINTER SHAKE-UP WITH BONUS FOR ALL 14 LEADERS
All 14 world ranked number one judoka at the end of the year will receive a $50,000 bonus in prize money as the IJF adds $700,000 to this year’s record-setting level of prize money.
World number one ASAHINA Sarah (JPN) won her first world title at the revived Openweight World Championships and also scooped a record €100,000 for gold. The 20-year-old Tokai University is one of the 14 world number one’s intent on retaining their position during December’s final two events of the season.
Following the Grand Slam, which itself offers 1,000 world ranking points for gold, the IJF World Judo Tour will head for Russia for the invite-only World Judo Masters in St. Petersburg where the top 16 judoka in each weight category will compete in one of the most prestigious events in the sport.
Success at the Masters is not only a career highlight for judoka but the top prize at the Masters comes with 1,800 ranking points with silver worth 1260 and bronze earning 900 points.
There is still everything to fight for at this stage of the season as 2017 will deliver a pulse-pounding conclusion with two of judo’s marquee events in two of the sport’s powerhouse nations.
World number one MUNKHBAT Urantsetseg (MGL) returns to -48kg obligations in Japan after taking bronze in the -52kg category at The Hague Grand Prix. MUNKHBAT is line to pocket a $50,000 bonus if she can hold on to the world lead until the end of the year but has former teammate and Olympic bronze medallist GALBADRAKH Otgontsetseg (KAZ) only 220 points behind her and with both fighting in Tokyo.
The two current standard-bearers for the -48kg category have faced each other eight times in international competition with MUNKHBAT winning five of them while the three wins for GALBADRAKH all come in 2016.
World champion TONAKI Funa (JPN) will don new red backpatch for the first time and the 22-year-old will be under pressure to win her home Grand Slam for the first time. Olympic bronze medallist KONDO Ami (JPN) took bronze at the World Championships this year and looks set to battle it out with TONAKI for Japan’s one -48kg place at their home Olympics in 2020.
World champion SHISHIME Ai (JPN) enters her first IJF World Judo Tour competition since winning gold in Budapest. Like her lighter teammate TONAKI, world number two SHISHIME will wear red on her gi for the first time and also has the ambition of winning the Tokyo Grand Slam for the first time. SHISHIME, 23, was won four medals at Japan’s Grand Slam (three bronze and one silver) but starts as the reigning world champion and heavy favourite for the first time.
World silver medallist TSUNODA Natsumi (JPN) and 17-year-old Junior World Championships winner ABE Uta (JPN) will be the leading challengers for their teammate while 2016 Tokyo Grand Slam bronze medallist TATSUKAWA Rina (JPN) will also be in the medal reckoning.
Olympic champion Rafaela SILVA (BRA) has fought at the Tokyo Grand Slam six times and counts three Tokyo Grand Slam bronze medals among her medal collection. SILVA, 25, lost in the second round at this year’s World Championships to Telma MONTEIRO (POR) but responded by taking silver at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in October.
The gold backpatch of SILVA will be in the sights of world silver medallist YOSHIDA Tsukasa (JPN) and world bronze medallist Nekoda SMYTHE-DAVIS (GBR) as well as former Japanese international DEGUCHI Christa (CAN) who represents Canada for the first time in Japan.
Japan’s ranks includes former world champion UDAKA Nae (JPN), 2016 Tokyo Grand Slam bronze medallist and former Junior world champion TAMAOKI Momo (JPN) and 2012 Tokyo Grand Slam winner YAMAMOTO Anzu (JPN) who is been in favour after winning the Kodokan Cup in November.
Olympic champion and European champion Tina TRSTENJAK (SLO) lost the World Championships 2017 final to her familiar foe Clarisse AGBEGNENOU (FRA). TRSTENJAK defeated the Frenchwoman in the Olympic final last year but that result was reversed in the Worlds final this year as both judoka now have their own coloured backpatches with gold for TRSTENJAK and red for AGBEGNENOU.
The -63kg kingpins were due to continue their story in Tokyo until AGBEGNENOU was forced to withdraw with a collarbone injury which presents a clear path for TRSTENJAK if she can fight to the best of her ability.
World number three Kathrin UNTERWURZACHER (AUT) has been prolific in 2017 and adds to Europe’s stranglehold of the category. The European bronze medallist has won two Grand Prix since April and took bronze at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in October.
Abu Dhabi Grand Slam winner Edwige GWEND (ITA) and The Hague Grand Prix winner Juul FRANSSEN (NED) will also see action (NED) while Japan will look to double world bronze medallist TASHIRO Miku (JPN) and Asian Championships winner NABEKURA Nami (JPN) to win one of the few categories which they don’t have all their own way.
World champion ARAI Chizuru (JPN) is undefeated in 2017 and will be looking to compete a hat-trick of wins at her home Grand Slam event. ARAI, 24, has thrived since Olympic champion TACHIMOTO Haruka (JPN) retired this year with wins at the Paris Grand Slam, Dusseldorf Grand Prix, All Japan Championships, World Championships and was event part of Japan’s first mixed team champions on the last day in Budapest. ARAI is in pole position for gold on day one in Tokyo.
European champion Sanne VAN DIJKE (NED) lost out to Kim POLLING in The Hague Grand Prix final by a margin of three waza-ari scores. Only VAN DIJKE will be in Tokyo and the Dutch ace needs to perform as every competition counts ahead of the lengthy battle for the race for the sole -70kg Olympic berth.
World number one Natalie POWELL (GBR) has not rested on her laurels since becoming Britain’s first world number one in October. Instead the 27-year-old Welsh judoka, who won the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam to capture the world lead, headed straight for Japan for a four-week training camp before fighting at the Tokyo Grand Slam. The world bronze medallist competes in Japan’s capital for only the second time in her career and first since 2013.
World number two Guusje STEENHUIS (NED) won The Hague Grand Prix in November to close the gap on POWELL and took silver at this event in 2015. Former world champion UMEKI Mami (JPN) has never won the final Grand Slam of the year and needs to achieve that to be the early candidate for Tokyo 2020 for Japan at this weight.
Double Olympic medallist and former world champion Audrey TCHEUMEO (FRA) is the most accomplished judoka in the Saturday’s category and is undefeated at the competition having won it in her only appearance at Japan’s Grand Slam in 2010.
Openweight world champion ASAHINA Sarah (JPN) powered to victory at the revived event in Morocco in her last competition including a win over former Olympic and world champion Idalys ORTIZ (CUB) in their first meeting.
The 20-year-old has banished her disappointment from finishing with silver at the World Championships in Budapest and is already the preeminent force in the women’s heavyweight category and looks set to control it for the duration of this Olympic cycle and beyond.
World bronze medallist KIM Minjeong (KOR) is a three-time Grand Slam medallist and will be in medal contention while double world silver medallist Maria Suelen ALTHEMAN (BRA) is a four-time Grand Slam winner.
Three-time Grand Slam winner INAMORI Nami (JPN) only took bronze at the Zagreb Grand Prix in her last competition and faces being ousted by 17-year-old Junior world champion SONE Akira (JPN) who took silver in Tokyo a year ago.
Two-time and reigning world champion TAKATO Naohisa (JPN) is undefeated this year and is eying his eighth Grand Slam gold medal on day one. The 24-year-old world number one from Tokai University is riding a 14-fight winning-streak and has already won the Tokyo Grand Slam three times.
Former world champion GANBAT Boldbaatar (MGL), former world silver medallist DASHDAVAA Amartuvshin (MGL), defending Tokyo Grand Slam champion NAGAYAMA Ryuju (JPN) and six-time Grand Slam medallist SHISHIME Toru (JPN) all have the know-how to win the final Grand Slam of 2017 in judo’s homeland.
World champion ABE Hifumi (JPN) has not tasted defeat since 2015 having won a Grand Prix, three Grand Slams and his first World Championships in consecutive events. Japanese prodigy ABE, 20, who was pencilled in as one of the poster boys for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics after winning the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympics, has won his last 23 fights on the IJF World Judo Tour and 17 of them by ippon.
The -66kg category will also contain world bronze medallist Vazha MARGVELASHVILI (GEO), Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist and former world champion AN Baul (KOR) and European champion Georgii ZANTARAIA (UKR) in addition to three more Japanese but only four judoka will make it to the medal podium.
Olympic champion ONO Shohei (JPN) and world champion HASHIMOTO Soichi (JPN), the respective owners of judo’s gold and red backpatches in the -73kg category, are on a collision course as one of the judo’s dream matches is set to be realised on day one in Japan. Two-time world champion ONO, 25, competes for the first time since Rio 2016 while HASHIMOTO, 26, has starred during the absence of his teammate and is unbeaten since 2015.
ONO is unseeded due to his seldom appearances before and after the Olympics while HASHIMOTO has excelled in 2016 and 2017. Only one can go to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and their bid for a place at a home Olympics will take a major twist if they meet, as expected, at the fifth Grand Slam of the season.
While Japan have won the -73kg world title every year since 2010, it’s not through a lack of world-class judoka or desire from the countries and elite judoka. World bronze medallist GANBAATAR Odbayar (MGL) will hope to do the unthinkable and find a way best the Japanese which will also be the aim of Olympic bronze medallist Dirk VAN TICHELT (BEL).
World number one Frank DE WIT (NED) followed up on his Abu Dhabi Grand Slam win with a disappointing fifth-place at The Hague Grand Prix in November but has made a habit of conjuring up spectacular Grand Slam wins and will be looking for another in Tokyo.
South Korea’s Rio 2016 pick LEE Seungsu (KOR) has inevitably struggled to fill the void left by London 2012 Olympic champion KIM Jae-Bum. LEE was fifth at the World Championships in 2015 and second in Tokyo in the same year which was his last IJF World Judo Tour medal. Former world bronze medallist Victor PENALBER (BRA) took bronze at this event in 2012 and needs to get back to that level after missing out on major medals this season.
World number one and European champion Aleksandar KUKOLJ (SRB) was back amongst the winners at The Hague in November after a noticeable dip in form in the middle half of 2017. KUKOLJ stuttered on the tour between his European Championships victory and winning in The Hague with a fifth-place finish at the Worlds and seventh-place finishes at the Zagreb Grand Prix and the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam when he was the favourite to win all three events.
Tashkent Grand Prix winner Komronshokh USTOPIRIYON (TJK) is fighting in Tokyo for the first time and the world number three will be aiming for his first Grand Slam honours. Ekaterinburg Grand Slam winner NAGASAWA Kenta (JPN) took bronze in Tokyo a year ago and will be expected to do better this time around and to make the most of his chances with 23-year-old Olympic champion BAKER Mashu (JPN) yet to compete since Rio 2016.
Openweight World Championships silver medallist Toma NIKIFOROV (BEL) is back to fighting judoka at his own weight after a sensational showing in Morocco which saw him only eclipsed by now 10-time world champion Teddy RINER (FRA).
Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Varlam LIPARTELIANI (GEO) won bronze in Tokyo in 2013 while 19-year-old Paris Grand Slam winner IIDA Kentaro (JPN) almost stole the show on his IJF World Judo Tour a year ago when he took bronze in Tokyo. Tokyo-based Olympian Kyle REYES (CAN) took silver here in 2013 and competes at his local Grand Slam for the first time since 2014 when he finished in seventh-place.
In the men’s heavyweight category the onus is on world number one David MOURA (BRA) to stamp his authority on one of the biggest competitions of the year and to prove he is the man to beat when Teddy RINER (FRA) is absent. World silver medallist MOURA, who was left out of his country’s team for Rio 2016, has won the Cancun Grand Prix and Ekaterinburg Grand Slam this season.
Rio 2016 Olympic -100kg champion Lukas KRPALEK (CZE) returns to competition after an ankle injury kept him out of the World Championships while Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Or SASSON (ISR) and Openweight World Championships silver medallist OJITANI Takeshi (JPN) are two very worthy contenders. World bronze medallist NAIDAN Tuvshinbayar (MGL) competes for the second time in 2017 and has shown throughout his career that he overcome any odds and any opposition. —- Photos © IJF Media by G. Sabau & M. Mayorova